If you’ve ever wondered why the federal government has two separate agencies that investigate the illegal manufacture, distribution, and possession of firearms, you’re not alone.
Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner reintroduced a bill on Thursday that would abolish one of those agencies—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—and transfer its responsibilities to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In a press release, Rep. Sensenbrenner cited rising government spending and debt as the primary motivation for the bill. “Common sense budgeting solutions are necessary, and the ATF Elimination Act is one measure we can take to reduce spending, redundancy, and practice responsible governance,” he said.
He also noted that the ATF “lacks a clear mission” and has been “plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges, and a lack of leadership.”
Under the terms of the bill, the ATF, FBI, and Drug Enforcement Agency would be required to submit a plan to Congress within 180 days that outlines how the ATF will be dismantled.
The FBI will handle all criminal and regulatory violations of the federal firearms, explosives, and arson laws, and the investigation of violent crime and domestic terrorism. The DEA will take over criminal and regulatory violations of the federal alcohol and tobacco smuggling laws.
ATF property will be either transferred to the FBI or excessed.
Rep. Sensenbrenner also said the ATF has been “branded by failure” and referenced the “scandal-ridden” nature of the agency, a clear allusion to the ATF’s so-called Fast and Furious operation in 2011.
The ATF allegedly designed the program to allow Mexican drug cartels to purchase illegal firearms so the agency could track and prosecute drug dealers working inside the U.S. But the operation went south, and agents lost track of many of the firearms.
Rather than allow the ATF to dismantle the cartels, the firearms were used to kill thousands of Mexican and at least one American, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
In another scandal, “Operation Fearless,” the ATF used juveniles in several of its undercover storefront operations. These operations were designed to purchase potentially illegal firearms and snare high-level targets.
Instead, the programs cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, and the ATF never succeeded in bringing down any noteworthy criminals. In several instances they also bought illegal weapons from juveniles without any clear direction from the agency’s leaders.
Ultimately, the FBI can do everything the ATF can do, only better. While taking on the ATF’s responsibilities may involve hiring more agents, the cost to taxpayers will be significantly less than funding a totally separate agency.
The bill will be considered in the upcoming legislative session, but has yet to be assigned to a committee.